There are two kinds of people in this world: those that prefer “The Dark Knight” and Christopher Nolan, and those that “The Avengers” and Joss Whedon. I count myself absolutely and unapologetically in the first camp.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to like both; indeed, I did enjoy “The Avengers.” That point might be lost in this review since I will be attacking the ideology of filmmaking that produces movies like it, but Whedon recaptures the fun spirit that has been lost in Marvel films since Jon Favreau’s original “Iron Man” in 2008.
He doesn’t provide nearly enough justification for the wasting of four hours of my life on “Thor” and “Captain America,” but then again, I’m not the target audience. Just the sight of those figures will undoubtedly bring joy to many fans; I need a little bit more of a reason to care. I need to know why a purely expository story for “The Avengers” with little drama of its own is worth my time and money.
Whedon definitely embraces the inherent childishness of the comic books and places that as the center of the film; Nolan merely uses the familiar characters of renowned series as a facade to explore important social and cultural issues. There’s no discussion of serious issues in “The Avengers,” unless you count how New York would recover from the $160 billion of damage done to the city in the movie’s bloated climax.
Whedon revels in the mere assembly of these characters on screen, which I think blinds him to the need to create more compelling drama between the characters. It’s fun to see the tensions between the heroes, particularly the straight-laced Captain America (Chris Evans) and the care-free rebel Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), but “The Avengers” quickly devolves into costumes spouting appropriate one-liners. The movie feels like the most expensive piece of fan fiction ever – Whedon maintains all the integrity of the characters that the die-hards obsess over. Unfortunately, he also manages to replicate their lack of discipline, making the story lag.
Whedon does get one thing right: Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, better known in his angry, green form as the Hulk. The past decade has seen two failed attempts to make the character work, one awful (Ang Lee’s 2003 version with Eric Bana) and one admirable (Louis Letterier’s 2008 version with the inimitable Edward Norton); I guess the third time wound up being the charm. He’s the one “hero” with viable character development, and Ruffalo is the only actor bringing his A-game to “The Avengers.” You care for Banner, empathize with his journey, and get frustrated when all we get are Iron Man and Captain America tearing into each other like modern politicians.
In summary, I’d much rather see Whedon’s bombastic fan fiction than the Hollywood formula poisoning the most recent output of vapid comic book movies. And I’m definitely glad there is a new Nolan of the other side of the genre spectrum. They needed someone to save them from total obsolescence because they were doomed to either be a second-rate Nolan rip-off or just flop on their own merits. Now they have an attainable standard. The question is, can anyone reach it? B /